Looking Forward: Career Exploration in QSP
Author: Sarah Yunes
Editor: Rajiv P. Shrestha
Quantitative systems pharmacology (QSP) is a burgeoning field with a ton of potential in improving drug discovery and development. As such, there’s a huge demand for new talent to push QSP forward. To this end, Boston QSP collaborated with the Boston University's Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) to present our first event of the “Interdisciplinary Quantitative Systems Pharmacology Research: Present and Future” event series at Boston University.
QSP and the Drug Development Problem
To introduce QSP and the problem it addresses, Dr. Cynthia J. (C.J.) Musante, the Senior Scientific Director and Head of the Quantitative Systems Pharmacology (QSP) Group in Early Clinical Development at Pfizer, started the event off with a talk titled The Role of Quantitative Systems Pharmacology in Drug Discovery and Development: Present and Future. The overall goal of the pharmaceutical industry is to develop drugs to treat diseases. This involves taking research about disease mechanisms and generating molecules that target key pathways involved in the disease. Getting a drug to market and into the hands of patients involves making sure the drug targets the right thing, is safe for humans to use, and is effective at treating the disease. However, despite extensive preclinical testing, 10-15% of potential drugs do not succeed in getting approved by the FDA, with 60-70% of those getting to phase II clinical trials failing to make it to phase III. This is a very high failure rate that is incredibly costly in time and resources. This is where QSP can have the most impact. By using modeling to better predict the safety and efficacy, drugs that are likely to fail in clinical trials can be prevented from moving forwards and resources can be allocated to drugs that are more likely to be successful. QSP can take all the available data to make better drug candidates that can make a real impact on treating diseases.
How to Get Involved in QSP as a Career
Dr. Musante’s talk was followed by a panel discussion of “Careers in Interdisciplinary Quantitative Systems Pharmacology Research”. The panel included our introductory speaker, Dr. C.J. Musante. The other panelists were the Head of Early Clinical Development Clinical Pharmacology at Pfizer, Dr. Gianluca Nucci, the Global Head of Modeling and Simulation, PK Sciences at Novartis, Dr. Birgit Schoeberl, the Senior Scientific Director, Clinical Translational Modeling and Simulation Leader at Takeda Oncology, Dr. Dean Bottino, and Dr. Bill McCarty, a Modeler and Project Team Representative (PTR) in Pharmacokinetics and Drug Metabolism (PKDM) at Amgen. The discussion was co-moderated by Dr. Amanda Bolgioni-Smith, Director, BU's BEST and Dr. Rajiv P Shrestha, Founder/President, Boston QSP.
The panel discussion focused on how to enter the QSP field and how to have a successful career there. First, our panelists discussed what they are looking for in PhD graduates and postdocs that are sometimes lacking. Dr. Nucci emphasized “a combination of personality and technical skills”. Collaboration across diverse areas is critical in industry so aspiring QSP scientists need to be able to explain their models to people of many different backgrounds. If you’re looking to demonstrate these skills, Dr. Musante recommends writing a cover letter to show your passion, personality, and motivations as they relate to the role you’re applying for. Also, Dr. Nucci brought up that the on-site interview will often involve a seminar presentation, which is a key opportunity to demonstrate your ability to communicate. Dr. Schoeberl is looking for a publication record, as it shows you can finish a project. The power of networking cannot be understated as well. Dr. Bottino talked on how knowing the right people can lead to people asking for your resume, instead of submitting it through the internet application black box.
In terms of getting started, Dr. Bottino is looking for “some demonstrated creativity” and “a problem-solving mindset”. Dr. Schoeberl looks for experience in the lab as well as computational skills so that a candidate can better understand the data and how to interpret it. Dr. McCarty says his team actively looks for people from different backgrounds to give diverse perspectives for problem solving. Moving forward in your career, the panel agreed it was important to follow your passion and values and to look for opportunities to learn new things. Dr. Musante came back to networking to discover new opportunities, knowing your skill set, and not being afraid to ask for what you want.
The current challenges in QSP include needing more lead time in a fast-moving drug development pipeline and expanding QSP until it becomes more commonplace. One solution to both of these is to increase collaboration with contract research organizations (CROs), other pharmaceutical companies, and academic labs. To assist with this, models need to be published instead of considered proprietary and they need to be accessible through open source software so that they are available in developing countries and as well as emerging markets. This will also help make models more reproducible, which is critical for QSP’s continued use in collaborative drug development.
The event concluded with a networking reception where community members and aspiring QSP scientists discussed and socialized over food and drinks. Check out the February Event: The Photo Blog for more details and highlights.
We would like to thank the Boston University BEST Program, the Boston University Biological Design Center, and Boston University Industry Engagement for sponsoring our event. Also, special thanks to Amanda Bolgioni-Smith of BU's BEST for her help in organizing this event.
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About Boston QSP
Boston QSP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to foster the sharing of QSP knowledge, challenges, solutions, and opportunities to advance the field as an interdisciplinary community in Boston.